Interview with Melissa Williams
Updated: Aug 13, 2020
On November 25th 2019, Melissa (@melissxwillixms) got in touch with ASC on Instagram asking if we would be happy to answer a few questions for her third-year dissertation studying Fashion Communication and Promotion at Nottingham Trent. She is looking into the streetwear/skatewear sector, and how brands are connecting with their consumers through both narrative and promotion. She thought that by creating a female-focused brand that sees the gap for feminine garments retaining the street essence of skate-wear, we have recognised and created a platform for female skaters to relate to one another. How lovely is that?! We're a sucker for flattery, so we couldn't say no. Here's how it went...
Melissa: Would you describe your brand as female-focused or unisex? What would your personal definition of female-focused or unisex be?
Gabby: Definitely female-focussed. There is already so much unisex and/or male skate clothing out there but little to none made specifically for women. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Salon Skateboards, and then again they're not creating technical pieces, rather more cultural style pieces (the "dump him, go skateboarding" tee is my personal fave). Unisex is a funny one because I see it simply as male clothing sold to include a smaller size range. The skate trousers ASC has designed are based on real women's bodies, so smaller waists, wider hips, and just would not fit a man proportionally regardless of size. Technical and hardwearing women's skate trousers made specifically for the sport are very lacking in the market right now, and that's what fundamentally makes ASC a female-focussed brand. Having said that, the tees ASC create in partnership with some unbelievably talented female artists are unisex. Appreciation of great artwork is genderless and universal and everyone should be included in that.
Melissa: Do you feel as though unisex clothing brands are still male-leaning? Are they being authentically representative of their female consumers, or are they a second thought to their male counterparts?
Gabby: Absolutely believe that it's still male-leaning. I think it's come from that socionormative concept that its acceptable for women to wear masculine styles, but not vice versa. I personally haven't seen much unisex clothing that has more feminine-leaning attributes because I guess it just doesn't sell to men. And I'm talking structurally here, not just the use of "feminine" colorways. I think brands are aware of this concept and will create according to the common denominator - women will buy both feminine and masculine styles, whereas men will (generally) just buy masculine styles. I don't think it necessarily makes women a second thought though, its just about what makes the most money and targets the widest market. I'm happy with having a smaller market, I feel like I can connect much more with my tribe and find out exactly what they want/need. Also, as a female, I don't presume to know what men want from their skate clothing!
Melissa: In your opinion, how much progress do you feel the streetwear/skatewear sector has made in terms of representation of women/female-identifying individuals within branding and the shopping experience? Where do you think they fall within the sector?
Gabby: So far, not a lot! Skateboarding has been around for 50+ years and has been male-dominated pretty much through that entire time. I think that's changing fast though. It's only in the last 3-4 years that female skateboarding has truly exploded, and I think that has primarily come from personal users on Instagram. You also see a lot of mainstream brands jumping on the bandwagon off the back of that and using female skaters in their advertising in an attempt to connect to a growing market (e.g. Aimee Gillingwater with Superdry, Jennifer Charlene with Apple). You know its real when Apple gets involved. So it is becoming more normal, which I'm very excited about. Its also great to see the dominant skate brands recognising and sponsoring female skaters like Sky Brown (Nike SB), Nora Vasconcellos (Adidas SB) and Rianne Evans (Polar Skate Co.). As for where they sit, it is still a minority but I think its definitely passed the stage of gimmick. Talented women are being fully lauded for their achievements and contribution to the scene, not just focussed on for the fact that they're not men.
Melissa: Your brand is heavily influenced by the female form and influence on urban culture, how do you feel other start-up brands can learn from your approach to representation?
Gabby: I think the key is to simply be naturally integrated into whatever your brand is trying to achieve. If you're trying to serve an audience you don't know anything about with the aim to cash in on a trend, people will see right through you. ASC successfully represents female skaters because its created by a female skater for female skaters. It would be quite hard to get the representation wrong! Basically, you can't fail if you truly believe in, know about and love what your brand has to offer. The best advice I ever got was to make this brand a service to others, not about my personal gain or establishment. Some venture capitalists might disagree, but if nobody wants or needs to buy your product, how can you possibly succeed?
Melissa: Do you feel as though streetwear/skatewear consumers are becoming detached from the essence of brands that they are buying from? Are they buying things just because they're cool or because the brand represents them? Do you feel as though this is important?
Gabby: This is a difficult one to answer because image does play a huge part in the skate community. Skaters like to represent indie/underground brands because thats the vibe of the culture; being other to the main stream, being non-conforming, where skaters still carry the trope of "rebellious outcasts" of society. I don't see this as a negative though because everyone likes to say who they are by what they wear, its a universal form of self-expression and cultural identity. In a way, I think being represented and feeling cool is therefore one in the same in skateboarding. Skaters will buy from independent skater-owned brands that aren't in the mainstream, and that exclusive and urban vibe immediately brings the cool factor. I can't say I see many regulars wearing Supreme and Thrasher these days, most likely because these brands have entered the mainstream fashion market and are worn regularly by non-skaters and hype beasts. There are of course exceptions to that, but my guess would be that, culturally, true skateboarders want to advertise their genuine participation in the scene, and so associate with underground brands that the regular fashion consumer wouldn't know about. So I do think its an important factor to maintaining the culture as these two things feed into each other; skaters support indie brands, and indie brands continue to create for skater's needs.
Melissa: How have you found creating and establishing a female-orientated skate brand in such a male-saturated industry? Has the experience been different to that of any male counter-parts of yours?
Gabby: I've actually found it to be a considerable advantage. For the guys, the skate brand market is incredibly saturated, and starting out a male brand is like adding a small voice to a pre-existing cacophony of brands all clamouring to get the male consumer's attention. The male skate clothing brands I've heard of that are of a similar size to ASC are generally having a harder time of it. Being one of the few female skate brands in the UK, the metaphoric background noise is still low and that immediately narrows down the options for women wanting support the scene. That's not to say its not still hard though. Starting any enterprise is a huge challenge and ASC has definitely not been without its fair share of struggles!